I got a lot of mileage out of “Left 4 Dead” and its sequel, and I especially liked the melee component in the latter. You were able to use katanas, chainsaws, baseball bats, and other melee weapons to bring the hurt (if that were possible) to the undead. “Dead Island” puts this mechanic out on the front lines, forcing you to wade through zombies at close range for the majority of the game. There are ranged weapons and you can throw melee weapons, but the majority of combat will take place all up in your face.
The main menu allows you to play / continue a game, set game options, view extras, and quit. The options are pretty in-depth, covering your basics like video, screen resolution, and sound, but also allows you to set your game and online options the way you’d like. Some of those game options include the ability to force enemies to level with you no matter where you are, toggle damage and enemy health indicators, adjust your online visibility and privacy, allow hints and advanced navigation, change key bindings, and more. Extras include things like achievements, personal stats, leaderboards, and etc.
You’ll be able to choose between four different characters (five if you purchase the GOTY edition / DLCs) that each have a specialty that sets them apart from the others. Sam B is a blunt weapons expert, Xian Mei is a bladed weapons expert, Logan is a throwing weapons expert, and Purna is the firearms expert. Some of them are better suited to being a tank while others take on a support role. Logan is labeled as a good, all-around character and is recommended for first time players, though feel free to experiment.
Each character has a skill tree, similar to ones that you’d find in games like “World of Warcraft”. Some skills allow players to throw multiple points into them while others are a one time investment. The skill trees are catered to the character in question, but generally focus on a particular trait like survival or combat. Logan’s survival tree, for example, allows the player to give him more health, increase backpack slots, pick locks, and more. I found myself liking this aspect of the game the best, mainly because I’m a skill tree-aholic.
Weapons in-game degrade as you use them, though they can be repaired or upgraded at workbenches. A weapon that has degraded to a certain point will be less effective, so keeping a functioning arsenal with you is an important part of staying alive. Weapons have a level assigned to them and generally, the higher the level, the more powerful the weapon. However, weapons maintain a rarity system similar to “World of Warcraft” where green is common but better than white, blues that are uncommon, and etc. Sometimes a level five blue will be better than a level eight white, depending on its stats. Each weapon type has unique characteristics that make them appealing, and users will usually prefer a particular weapon type because of this. Some may like fast swinging blades while others will take to slow (but powerful) blunt weapons. It all comes down to personal preference and what you currently have available.
Quests will keep you engaged, some of them are even repeatable to give you something to do when you don’t feel like pursuing the main story. Some quests might task you with bringing water to someone while others might ask you to drive to a gas station to pickup fuel. Using a vehicle to get around the environment is very useful as the maps are fairly large, and to that end, you’ll never run out of things to kill and/or run over. Quest rewards usually include cash on top of something special like a weapon or a mod, the latter being a schematic for a weapon that you can create assuming you have the necessary tools / items in your inventory.
Combat is pretty fluid and there are some pretty advanced physics at work when it comes to limb damage. You can aim at arms and legs, for example, to either slice them off with bladed weapon or break them with a blunt weapon. Head hits are usually a great way to take out zombies quickly, but they can be harder to pull off. Weapons can be thrown, though become stuck in that zombie until you’re given the opportunity to retrieve it later. Some zombies run at you while others are slow, but the latter are no less dangerous. There are also some unique zombie classes that change the way you approach a situation, so mindlessly mowing down zombies simply won’t do. You’ll be tactically finessing your way through zombies as they come at you, and getting trapped in a corner will usually spell your doom.
“Dead Island”, when it comes down to it, is a cross between “Far Cry”, “Left 4 Dead 2”, and “Dead Rising 2”. I enjoy playing it, though it does tax my video card even on low settings. Those looking to purchase this would do well to pay attention to the recommended PC specs. Despite that however, the scenery is beautiful and the gameplay mechanics keep me coming back for more. It is currently going for $19.99 (as of 12/2/12) and I believe this to be a fair price for the amount of content it offers. I picked this up for more than half that during a Steam sale and I’m glad I did. The bugs during its rocky launch kept me from dropping money on it, but the patches and price drop put the game back onto my radar. If you enjoy wading through zombies using melee weapons, managing inventory / weapons, and doing quests, then you’ll get a lot out of “Dead Island.” Oh, and the original trailer? Fantastic!
Final Verdict: 8/10
You can check out video play sessions here: